Disappearing Feminists: Removing Critical Voices from Academe.

Author:Martin, Jennifer L.

Disappearing Feminists: Removing Critical Voices from Academe

When women use bullying as a way of interacting with other women, they become complicit in reproducing systems that oppress women, further marginalizing themselves and other females. Each act of bullying marks targets (i.e., women) as deserving of abuse and disrespect--Lutkin-Sandvik & Dickenson, 2012


For nearly two decades, women have reached higher educational attainment levels than men, earning more than 50% of all bachelor, master's, and doctoral degrees; however, a disproportionate number of women to men hold positions of high faculty rank (Johnson, 2016). In 2013, women held 49.2% of faculty positions, an increase of 10.6% since 1993, but only 37.6% of those positions were tenured (Finkelstein, Conley, & Schuster, 2016). According to Johnson, "In 2015, male faculty members held a higher percentage of tenure positions at every type of institution even though they did not hold the highest number of faculty positions at every rank" (2016, p. 7). In fact, the proportion of women faculty who are tenured or on the tenure track has declined from 20% to 8% between the years 1993 and 2013, while, simultaneously part-time appointments for women increased from 48% to 56% (Finkelstein et al., 2016). Less than 9% of women faculty have achieved full professorships (Finkelstein et al., 2016). Institutions of higher education are hiring more women, but most in adjunct positions--not for the more prestigious tenure track positions (Flaherty, 2016).

Women of all races and ethnicities will more than likely hold lower level faculty positions than men, but it is the persistent marginalization of women of color in higher education that makes the situation even more dire (Curtis, 2011, 2015; Finkelstein, et al., 2016; Johnson, 2016; Turner, Gonzales, & Wong, 2011). According to Finkelstein, Conley, and Schuster,

"... white women have actually benefitted the least among all racial subgroups of women. Relative to the 109.7% increase in women faculty between 1993 and 2013, white women increased by 81.5% compared to the 296.0% increase in Asian-American women, and the 189.9% increase in underrepresented minority women (with Hispanic women outpacing both African-American and Native- Americans)" (2016, p. 13). However, the proportionate presence of underrepresented minority female faculty among all women faculty has remained dormant: Asian-American women full-time faculty increased 4.0%, and among both tenure track and tenured female faculty 6.3%; African-American women full-time faculty increased 0.3%, among tenure track female faculty 0.5%, and tenured female faculty declined 0.5%; Latino women full-time faculty increased 1.4%, among tenure-track female faculty 1.5%, and tenured female faculty 1.3%; Native American women full-time faculty increased 0.1%, no change in tenure track female faculty, and tenured female faculty 0.2% (Finkelstein et al., 2016). Although the gap appears to be narrowing, the numbers of minority women remain relatively small.

Underrepresented minority groups hold 13% of faculty jobs but only 10% of tenure track/tenured positions (Finkelstein et al., 2016). Underrepresented minority women of color often outnumber men of color in lower-ranking faculty positions, "... but men of color hold full professor positions more often than women of color" (Johnson, 2016, p. 5). While we have seen tremendous growth in the past twenty years, nearly triple in number--from 35,800 to 103,800, of underrepresented minority women faculty, the growth in tenure-track positions has been modest--from 7,900 to 14,300 (Feinstein et al., 2016). The advancement of underrepresented minority women to full-time tenure positions has been limited with most of the growth at the level of full-time non-tenure-track appointments and part-time appointments (Finkelstein et al., 2016).

At the intersection of race and gender, the increasing stratification of faculty levels place gains women and underrepresented minority women have made in positions of part-time adjuncts and full-time non-tenured track faculty (Flaherty, 2016). According to Finkelstein et al., (2016), "The available jobs tend, less and less, to be the conventional 'good' jobs, that is, the tenure-track careerladder jobs that provide benefits, manageable to quite good salaries, continued professional development opportunities--and, crucially, a viable future for academics" (p. 1).


This paper details some experiences of intersectional feminist professors who, because of this standpoint, possess an outsider status (i.e., outsiders inherently critique institutional practices that perpetuate racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, classist, and other -isms which serve to perpetuate the status quo), which subjects them to chilly climates within their respective institutions. Overt and covert exclusion, gendered microaggressions, and gaslighting are just some of their experiences. In this paper, we analyze not only the impact of these experiences on the physical, spiritual, emotional, and mental health of participants but also how these experiences have impacted and informed their work.

Theoretical Framework

Feminist standpoint theory (Sprague 2016) informs this work, which demands an analysis of how power and authority interact. Power is a part of all social relations and is directly related to the ability to work in concert or collaboration with one another (Nyberg, 1981). Foucault's analysis of power counterbalances standpoint theory, extracting meaning from how exchanges of power within the university serve to maintain the status quo, which is highly racialized and gendered, and used to punish those who question it, or perform in ways that upset status quo expectations based upon gender, race, sexuality, class, and other marginalized identities. As Foucault states, "Generally speaking, all the authorities exercising individual control function according to a double mode; that of binary division and branding (made/same; dangerous/harmless; normal/abnormal); and that of coercive assignment, of differential distribution (who he is; where he must be; how he is to be characterized; how he is to be recognized; how a constant surveillance is to be exercised over him in an individual way, etc.)" (p. 199).

Foucault's concepts of surveillance and the gaze play out within notions of what is acceptable/unacceptable behavior for feminist scholars, and Foucault's notion of power reproduces this limiting binary. The Foucauldian representation of Bentham's panopticon is realized in our current milieu through the self-policing of women, e.g., "the Hillary Problem": hyper-confident women are neither palatable nor acceptable, for they defy the outdated yet still perpetuated gender stereotype that women should demur to men, to the system, to tradition, to the institution. As Foucault argues, the Panopticon "reverses" the function of the dungeon, focusing only on "enclosure"; the other two functions: depriving light and hiding the prisoner, are no longer necessary. In this metaphorical prison, women police themselves, a requirement of the panopticon, "[Sh]e is seen, but [s]he does not see; [s]he is the object of information, never a subject in communication" (p. 200). Likewise, women are kept separate, and compete against one another--the panopticon becomes a metaphor for power and control: self-policing: "... to induce ... a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power" (p. 201).

Foucault's "central tower," where "... one sees everything without ever being seen" is an invisible metaphorical entity, situated to control our every action and decision, with the ultimate goal of holding us in compliance, never to challenge the status quo (p. 202); those who do become destabilized. Those who challenge the status quo, by, for example, questioning sexist institutional practices that serve to keep women silent, per gendered stereotypes for example, are summarily punished. Stereotypes and discrimination have largely not changed for women in academe in the last 30 years. Thus, we utilize Foucault's concept of surveillance and power to theorize the ways in which women in the academy are: stereotyped, self-policed, and (may benefit from) policing other women.

Shame resilience theory is another layer that informs this analysis. According to Brown (2006):

The definition of shame that emerged from the research is, "An intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging." Participants described shame using terms including devastating, noxious, consuming, excruciating, filleted, small, separate from others, rejected, diminished, and the worst feeling ever. In defining shame, participants contrasted shame with guilt, which they defined or described as a feeling that results from behaving in a flawed or bad way rather than a flawed or bad self. (p. 45) Institutions possess mechanisms of control that serve to shame those who do fit within pre-existing hegemonic expectations/categories. These shaming practices serve to silence and isolate their victims, continuing to make these mechanisms of control hidden and continuing practices.

We will elucidate what Brown terms "speaking shame." Through this work, we become vulnerable, critically aware, and empathic, according to Brown, all necessary components to building resilience to shame. We build upon this theory, by expanding it to method, as well as applying it to practice, as we devise strategies to combat to transgress/"talk back" to institutional oppressions.

Review of the Literature

Power may be illusive for women in the workplace. Women cannot break into important jobs unless they are self-promoting, confident, and advocate for themselves, but self-promotion can be a double edged sword; while it increases how a woman is perceived i.e., with confidence and/or...

To continue reading